It’s a clear case of mistaken identity, says Sarbajit Singh’s lawyer Advocate Awais Sheikh while talking to The Express Tribune.
Singh was implicated in a case which wasn’t even registered under his name. The FIR registered back in July 1990 nominated “Manjeet Singh” for carrying out four bomb blasts in Punjab. Manjeet Singh, Sheikh says, is a terrorist and an international criminal and authorities have been presenting Sarbajit as Manjeet.
(Read: Death sentence appeal: Islamabad’s reply sought on Sarabjit plea)
On August 15, 1991 the court awarded death sentence to Manjeet.
Following a clemency appeal pending before President Asif Ali Zardari and a petition pending before the Supreme Court of Pakistan for reopening his case, Sarbajit awaits his fate as he languishes behind bars in Pakistan.
Sarbajit isn’t the only prisoner hoping his story has a happy ending.
Languishing in an Indian jail is a 79-year-old Pakistani Dr Khaleel Chishti who was imprisoned on murder charges back in 1992 by a court in Ajmer. He was allowed to get out on bail. However, the court directed that he would have to be kept under house arrest until he served a life sentence that would have to have ended in January 2011. Today, Dr Chisti awaits his release following an amnesty appeal that has been pending before the governor of Rajasthan, who has, time and again, raised objections over releasing Dr Chishti, despite a written request from a judge of the Indian Supreme Court.
While authorities of both countries battle it out with their egos, 20 years on, two men continue to serve time in prison – time they could just as well be spending with their families.
“I met the political secretary to Sonia Gandhi, the Congress spokesperson and many others over the past few days to expedite the process of Dr Chishti’s release,” says Sarbajit’s sister, Dalbeer Kaur, while talking to The Express Tribune from India. “It’s just the Governor of Rajasthan, Shivraj Patil, who is posing a hurdle and raising objections to his clemency appeal,” she adds.
Kaur says she is planning to hold regular protests outside the governor’s house to get him to relent on Dr Chisti’s sentence. Regarding the release of her own brother, Kaur says, “I am completely satisfied with the struggle being made by Pakistan’s civil society as well as the legal fraternity, and I’m hopeful that Sarbajit will be released soon.”
While Kaur tries to be more optimistic about the outcome of the legal effort, Dr Chishti’s daughter, Shua Javed, appears less sanguine. “The governor of Rajasthan returned the appeal for the release of my father to the chief minister who had forwarded it to him. We are going to re-file it to the governor after addressing all the objections raised by him,” she said.
The point to be raised in Dr Chishti’s case is that the trial court did not consider the 19-year period of his house arrest during his bail, says Justice (retd) Nasir Aslam Zahid, member of the Pakistan-India Judicial Committee on Prisoners. Had a Pakistani court awarded him the sentence, he would have been given benefit under section 382-B of CrPC and the time he served under house arrest would have been considered part of his punishment. His lawyer must move the high court in this regard, added Justice (retd) Zahid.
Seeing a precedent, former law minister Iqbal Haider filed a petition before the Supreme Court, requesting them to appeal to the Indian government to release Dr Chishti. However, Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry dismissed the petition.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 16th, 2011.